Friday, June 29, 2012

Mixed Bag Friday: Things We’re Talking About

To say what a news week seems like an understatement. So much occurred this week leaving me to ponder, how do I capture it all. After following the multitude of events, I’m left with more questions than answers. So I thought that I would try something new. Instead of posting my thoughts on a specific issue, I  post on a series of issues that caught my attention. While the topics and question differ, they all speak to the issue of the functioning of race, class and gender in society. So here we go.    

 Health Care Reform. So the Affordable Health Care Act is Constitutional under tax laws but not under the commerce clause. How might this decision be used in the future? I leave that for others to debate. What I’m especially curious about is how will such a decision change the lived realities of Black women? A number of analyses look at the impact of this policy on women in general. Often ignored is the reality that not all women occupy the same socioeconomic space and as such there are differences in terms of access and privileges. The Affordable Health Care Act expands maternity care and family planning services. It also expands Medicaid for family-planning. These I see as good for women in general and Black women specifically. In terms of those who are living with HIV/AIDS-- children can no longer be denied health insurance coverage. This is a positive change given insurance companies’ treatment of this population. Here is my concern—how do we address the issue of access to care and the availability of culturally competent service providers? These are two factors that are often barriers to Black women’s experience with the health care system.

It wasn’t bath salts! I read this and declared “no shit!” in my most sarcastic of tones. In May, Rudy Eugene was killed by the police while biting the face off of Ronald Poppo (a homeless man). It was widely speculated that Eugene was under the influence of bath salts. According to the autopsy such substance was not evident in his body. Yovonka Bryant (his alleged girlfriend) is quoted as saying It's a puzzle. The hard part is not knowing why. Obviously something went wrong in his mind.” Immediately following this vicious and seemingly unexplainable act some categorized this as a “zombie-like cannibalism”. My guess is that when the unthinkable happens we seek to find explanations even if such explanations are in the realm of make belief. Given the current updates on this case maybe we can take this opportunity to have a more “real” discussion around issues of mental illness and mental illness and its relation to drug use. However, the question remains: Will this finding lead to a substantive discussion on mental health? Will it open up a space for conversation that does not treat substance abuse as an individual failing? Or will we be silent because this is considered such a heinous act?

Bristol Palin and reality TV. I have yet to see the show “Lifes a Tripp” which features Bristol Palin’s life as a solo-parent. According to the Lifetime network this is “a show that follows her everyday life as a single mother living under intense media scrutiny.” One show was titled “Baby Daddy Dilemma”. No comment! What fascinates me has more to do with the (re)imagining of Bristol Palin and the notion of teen pregnancy. Here’s a young woman who appears rather uncomfortable as she promotes abstinence (she was the ambassador for abstinence). During another interview she implied that her virginity was “stolen”. Stolen? What that means is a topic for another conversation. What I’m intrigued by is how her story fits into the larger conversations of teen pregnancy and its intersection with class and race. In other words, who among teen mothers gets to be rehabilitated and who gets punished and shamed? In welfare reform, poor teen mothers are treated as criminals and as devoid of morality. Such young women are often used to tell stories of all that is wrong with the fabric and fiber of American society. Then here comes an 18 year old teen mother, the daughter of the 2008 Vice President candidate Sara Palin. The conversation seems to have changed. The evolving narrative suggests that she has recognized the errors of her ways (almost a Christian rebirth) and is now equipped to lead others to the promise land (virginity until marriage). Really? Why can’t poor Black and Brown girls be treated in such a manner instead of being forced to wear the scarlet letter? How do we rehabilitate the often negative construction of Black girlhood? Is such "rehabilitation" even possible?

Feminist liars. Did feminists of yesteryear lie to women of modern times? Or did they simply leave something for us to experience? Ann-Marie Slaughter recently wrote the provocative piece stating that feminists were wrong. After all, based on her experiences women still can’t have it all. Where did she read this in a feminist text? Which feminists is she referring to? Many have critiqued Dr Slaughter. I actually commend her for being brave enough to put her business out there. That takes a level of honesty and comfort that many of us don’t have. How many of us are willing to publicly say “I messed up”? How many of us are willing to say, as a mother I struggle? Next week I’ll write more on motherhood and struggles. Don’t get me wrong. While I commend Dr. Slaughter I also have many criticisms of this piece. As I read this piece I was reminded of some Christians. Some read the Bible and pledge their lives to God with the expectation that life will now be easy. All illnesses, trials and tribulations are expected now be no more. Many ask “why me?” It seems to me that Dr. Slaughter held a similar belief. Her claim that women still can’t have it all is also reminiscent of how some students and their parents approach higher education. “I paid so much money now where is my A+. Or we paid thousands of dollars, why doesn’t my son or daughter have a job—more specifically a job paying six figures? These are some comments heard by my colleagues and I. There is a sense of entitlement (a false sense of entitlement) running through these claims—by Dr Slaughter, Christians and students. They are operating from a particular view of the functioning of society. The equation works like this:  

If I engage in certain actions + behave in a certain way = A good life, free of conflict and all that I want, will be readily available.  

This is a rather Eurocentric understanding of the good life. This critique of feminism is filled with the ideology of “the world owes me as opposed to what is it that I owe to the world.”

The Congressional Black Caucus. Attorney General Holder was recently found in contempt by Congress. He was found in contempt for refusing to turn over documents relating to “Fast and Furious”. As he was being charged the Congressional Black Caucus walked out as a show of “contempt.” Many have asked does this action make the CBC relevant in this so-called new era of politics. I think it depends on how we define relevant? It also has to do with what we want from politics: symbolic or substantive politics and policy.

What do you think?


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  2. Loved this round-up... particularly the points regarding Bristol Palin and young White teen mothers like her, who are allowed the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves (with the help of the media and TV) versus young Black and brown mothers, who're often shamed and discarded as a mere statistic by society.

    And the Rudy Eugene attack. I think it's easier for folks to chalk this tragedy up to a "zombie on bath salts" freak-out, because the meme presents a far more sensationalistic (and dare I say, comedic) undertone to it, and folks would rather roll with that than the actual facts of the case and having to consider the importance of mental wellness; and it's unfortunate.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, indeed there is a comedic undertone to some of the conversations about Eugene.